A day after Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that the storm surge that came with it was “basically a 500-year flood event.”
“We’ve never seen a flood event like this,” he said during a news briefing in Tallahassee. “We’ve never seen a storm surge of this magnitude.”
More than 2.5 million people across the state were without power as search and rescue teams and first responders assessed the historic damage.
Large sections of the Sanibel Causeway, which connects the Sanibel Islands to the mainland, collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico.
DeSantis said the causeway and Matlacha Pass Bridge are “impassable” and are going to require “structural” rebuilds.
Lee County, which includes Fort Myers, was particularly hard hit. On NBC’s “Today” show, Mayor Kevin Anderson, who has lived in the city since the 1970s, said Ian was “by far the worst storm” he’d ever seen.
And there were conflicting reports of fatalities.
On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said, “While I don't have confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds.” DeSantis, though, said that that number was unconfirmed and based on the thousands of people who called to report rising water in their homes.
Later on CNN, Marceno said that there were five confirmed deaths and that “a couple thousand calls came through 911.”
“We got crushed,” he said.
The devastation was seen in other counties too. In Port Charlotte, in Charlotte County, the storm ripped part of a roof off a hospital’s intensive care unit, forcing staff and patients to evacuate to other floors.
DeSantis said he spoke early Thursday with President Biden, who formally issued a disaster declaration and reaffirmed his commitment to use all available federal resources to assist in rescue and recovery efforts.
Biden was scheduled to receive a briefing on the response efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.
Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm as it cut across the state Thursday morning, but officials warned that conditions remain dangerous.
In Kissimmee, Fla., just south of Orlando, multiple people were rescued from their cars in rising floodwaters. A military transport vehicle was used to bring people and their pets to safety.
In Volusia County, east of Orlando, a 72-year-old man died “after going outside during the storm to drain his pool,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.
“The initial investigation indicates the victim was using a hose to drain the pool down a hill and into a 30-foot-wide canal, where a steep decline into the water was extremely soft and slippery due to the heavy rain,” the post read. “The Sheriff’s Office sends its sincere condolences to the victim’s family.”